Under the new Illinois Freedom to Work Act, Illinois employers cannot impose non-compete agreements on “low wage employees.” The Act comes in response to growing concerns and lawsuits over non-compete agreements imposed on employees by certain fast-food companies. Effective January 1, 2017, the Act defines a “low wage employee” as any employee who earns the greater of (1) the hourly minimum wage under federal (currently $7.25 per hour), state (currently $8.25 per hour) or local law (currently $10.50 per hour in Chicago) or (2) $13.00 per hour. The Act defines a non-compete agreement as an agreement between an employer and a “low-wage employee” that restricts such low-wage employee from performing:
- any work for another employer for a specific period of time;
- any work in a specified geographical area; or
- work for another employer that is similar to such low-wage employee’s work for the employer included as a party to the agreement.
The Act does not specifically ban non-solicitation agreements with low-wage employees, in which the employee promises not to solicit employer customers or employees. This will likely be answered in future litigation … stay tuned.
Similarly, the New York Attorney General has been extremely critical of non-competes for low-wage employees, and has publicly announced various monetary settlements with employers who required low-level employees to sign non-competes as a condition of employment. Employers with New York operations should be very wary of requiring low-wage workers to sign such agreements, and are encouraged to consult counsel before doing so.